Laws and Regulations

for more information on refuge and hunting rules and policies

National Wildlife Refuge System Laws

Laws and acts provide management direction for all refuges. At DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 provides the establishing authority for the refuge “…as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.” This act provides refuge staff with management goals and directions and all refuge decisions must take into account this establishing authority.

The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 provides further guidance for management decisions, including the determination of compatible uses on refuges. This act identifies six priority wildlife dependent recreational uses that include hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education and interpretation. DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge strives to provide these priority uses in ways that does not greatly impact our main mission as a sanctuary for migratory birds.

The conservation and stewardship of the historical Steamboat Bertrand collection is guided by numerous laws including the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the Archeological Resources Protections Act of 1979. These guiding laws require the refuge to maintain the Bertrand Collection for the benefit of the American people.

Numerous other laws such as the Refuge Recreation Act of 1962 and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 provides further guidance and direction for management decisions made on the refuge.


Some activities on the refuge require a special use permit as a way to manage the impacts of the potential use/activity. At DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, special use permits are required for the following activities:

  • Firewood Cutting: Firewood cutting permits are issued to individuals allowing them to cut fallen trees along the refuge roads. Contact 712-388-4800 for information on obtaining a firewood cutting permit.
  • Trapping: Trapping is a wildlife management tool used on some national wildlife refuges. Trapping may be used to protect endangered and threatened species or migratory birds or to control certain wildlife populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also views trapping as a legitimate recreational and economic activity when there are harvestable surpluses of fur-bearing mammals. Outside of Alaska, refuges that permit trapping as a recreational use may require trappers to obtain a refuge special use permit. Signs are posted on refuges where trapping occurs. Trapping at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is done on a limited basis based on management needs. Contact the refuge manager for specific information.
  • Commercial Filming/Recording: In general, commercial filming is allowed when it occurs during hours and in areas where the refuge is open to the public.  However, there are stipulations that would require a special use permit; contact refuge office at 712-388-4803 for more information. You do not need a permit for commercial still photography in areas or during times that are already open to the public, unless you are using a model, set, or prop. We require a permit for still photography only if it:
    • Takes place in areas closed to the public or when the refuge is normally closed
    • Would incur costs to the refuge to provide on-site management and oversight to protect agency resources or minimize visitor conflicts
  • Fishing Event: Fishing events on DeSoto Lake involving a tournament-like setting require a special use permit. No prizes can be exchanged on refuge for any tournament. Organizers also need to schedule their fishing event with Nebraska Game and Parks and Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The Migratory Bird Conservation Act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to conduct investigations and publish documents related to North American birds, and establishes a Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC) to approve areas recommended by the Secretary for acquisition. The MBCC...

The Refuge Recreation Act of 1962, with subsequent amendments, authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to administer refuges, hatcheries and other conservation areas for recreational use, when such uses do not interfere with the primary purpose for which these areas were established.